to market, to market

Chamelco has a great little market. It’s one, large block-sized building packed with stalls, meat shops, and little comedores (eateries). There’s a second story that I’ve never explored, and on market days (Monday and Friday), the surrounding streets are so thick with vendors that the roads are shut down. (The market is open seven days a week, but outside vendors only flood the place on official market days.)

My husband and I pass through the market on our way to and from work. We always put a market bag or two—large, reusable plastic-weave bags with handles—in our backpacks. This way we’re always prepared to haul whatever it is that catches our eye and strikes our fancy. Yesterday morning on the way to work, I bought two pounds of popcorn and a pound of spicy peanuts (and two bottles of imitation vanilla, one light and one dark, to experiment with) from a bulk foods vendor. That afternoon, my husband was assigned the task of getting some fruit. He came home with a watermelon, pineapple, tangerines, and mangos.

The other week, I photographed the contents of my market bag for your viewing pleasure.

This is a limón, otherwise known as a giant green lemon:

But it’s kind of like a lime, too. Except limes are really small and dark green. So really, I don’t know what this is exactly. I squirt some of the juice over my mashed avocados and the rest of the juice (and there is certainly a lot of juice), I mix with sugar and water for a juice. Each one costs about a quetzal, or US$0.13.

The green beans cost Q3.50 (about US$0.45) a pound. They are tougher and a bit more fibrousy than the green beans we grow at home, but given a long boil in salted water, they are equally delicious.

Cilantro (Q2.50 or US$0.32) is everywhere. I see it growing it corn patches, and the market women have large baskets filled with the herby bunches of green goodness. (Cilantro Haters, you are missing out so bad.) I chop the cilantro into fresh tomato salads or mix it with avocado or flurry it over the supper tacos. Invariably, I end up throwing part of the bunch away—they are big and I can never seem to use it all before it goes yellow-limp on me.

 Bananas: we can’t get enough of ’em. They usually cost about Q0.50 or US$0.07, each, but sometimes our neighbors give us bunches of bananas for free. I prefer the locally grown bananas even though their peels are crusty, sticky, and black. The fruit is more yellow and sweeter, and doesn’t go all mushy as fast. These bananas that you see above are white bananas, the same kind that you get in the states. Here, they seem to go bad awful fast, so I try to buy them on the green side and use them up quick. Which isn’t too much of a problem—the other morning my youngest ate five.

Broccoli runs about Q2 (US$0.26) a head, but the other day I got some heads for one quetzal each. I always have a couple heads on hand for roasting, boiling, or turning into a favorite cheesy potato broccoli soup. They are like candy.

The broccoli (and all other fruits and vegetables) is heavily sprayed, so there are no worms, bugs, anything. I wash/soak all fresh vegetables with a liquid soap that’s designed specifically for this purpose. I have no idea how well it works (and I’m washing the food in unpurified water), but we haven’t gotten sick yet.

Potatoes and tomatoes: I feel naked if I don’t have any on hand. Potatoes cost about Q2.50 (US$0.32) a pound. They are always new potatoes, and their skins are pale golden and delicate. The other day I bought two one-pound bags of new baby potatoes for Q2 each, perfect for drizzling with oil and roasting, which I did.

Tomatoes are always Roma and always delicious. They cost about Q4 (US$0.52) a pound. I slice them up to add to our cheese sandwiches, or, today, tuna sandwiches, and we eat them in homemade salsas, soups, and curries.

We are coming to the end of avocado season. These avocados I bought were extra large, and, it turned out, rotten. I prefer the hard, crusty, perfectly round avocados that pop open when you give them a good squeeze. The little ones usually cost about one quetzal each, though I think, if I’m remembering correctly, that I once bought four for one quetzal from a street vendor (US$0.03 each!).

Tostadas: not a fruit or vegetable, but a market purchase nonetheless. Some students served us chicken-topped tostadas for Valentine’s Day, and they were so good that I stopped by the market that evening to buy some for ourselves. They’re just fried tortillas (Q15, or nearly US$1., a bag). The vendors have them hanging around the tops of their stalls.

To eat, I smear each tostada with a scoop of refried beans, a drizzle of sour cream, some grated cheese, a blob of salsa, some guacamole (for me only), and then we chow down. Once the beans run out, we eat them plain, broken into bits and dipped in salsa.

Along with watermelons, cantaloupes, papayas, and honeydew melons, pineapples are everywhere. Each pineapple costs between Q10 and Q15 (US$1.30-1.95), depending on size. They are juicy, sweet, and delicious.

Some sunny market morning, I’d love to go to town with my camera, both literally and figuratively. Give you a real
eyeful. But I don’t know. Playing the role of tourist makes me feel loud and obnoxious.So, we’ll see… Maybe eventually, some day when I can summon the necessary devil-may-care attitude.

Update: my husband just not-so-kindly informed me that my numbers are completely off. So now I’m re-doing the math part. (Actually, he’s helping me do it. I’m hopeless.) (If you want to be a fact checker yourself, it’s 7.8 quetzales to 1 US dollar.)


  • Lily

    I see that your cilantro is sold with roots. If you put it in a jar/glass with water just to the top of the roots and then tent a plastic bag loosely over the whole thing (a shopping bag or whatever works fine) you should be able to get a couple extra days out of it before it goes sad or slimy on you.

  • Stephanie @ The Cozy Old Farmhouse

    I don't know if you've heard of this trick for pineapple before or not, but I learned it a couple of years ago and it makes it even more delicious. Before you slice it up, cut the sprouty greens off the top (looks like they're already gone from the one in your picture) and turn it upside down for about an hour and then cut it up. It spends all it's time in one position while sitting on the market shelf and all the sweet juicy goodness drains to the bottom. But if you'll turn it upside down for awhile first, the juice will redistribute throughout the entire pineapple.

    By the way, I took a missions trip to the Philippines as a teenager and the pineapple I had there was the best I'd ever tasted. The ones in America could never compare. I'm sure the ones where you are are equally as delicious and I'm a little jealous. : )

    • Jennifer Jo

      That's an interesting tip! Right now I have a pineapple that's so big in crooked, I have it laying down on its side. I'll have to make sure I rotate it before cutting it up.

  • Michelle Wilson

    I love following your story. I've enjoyed your blog for a while now. It all started with your 5 minute (no knead) bread recipe showing up on a canning site I follow. Soon afterward, I realized you weren't just about recipes and bread – and I was initially sceptical about whether or not I would devote the time for your "I got a new camera" phase. But I stuck with it and my (huge) reward is your documentation of this trip. I feel like I'm reading a very interesting book – complete with pictures (which are worth 1000 words). I always look forward to hearing the next chapter with my morning coffee – while my house is still quiet and lovely.
    Thank you!

  • Unknown

    Thank you so much for sharing that local flavor with us. It's such a treat to see the everyday living part of being where you are. Wuch interesting details.

  • Laurie Longenecker

    Love this post. Your description of tostados has totally motivated me. Yum. I know exactly what you mean about taking the camera to the market…but somehow you need to find a way to record the everyday things that you will want to remember.

  • Rachelle

    I love taking pictures of the places I live to get another viewpoint of the things I see every day. Sure, it might look weird to other people but I think the benefits tend to outweigh the negatives.

    • Margo

      so fascinating! I love marketing details! Have you gotten to eat the food the locals cook, too? What's it like? One of the downsides of doing your own cooking is the ethnic combinations you miss.

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